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Russ Ortiz Joins 'From Phenom To The Farm:' Episode 16

Russ Ortiz Getty
Russ Ortiz (Getty)

“From Phenom to the Farm” releases new episodes every other Tuesday featuring players whose experiences vary across the professional baseball spectrum. Players will discuss their personal experiences going from high school graduation to the life of a professional baseball player.

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Russ Ortiz’s World Series debut didn’t quite go to plan. In fact, not going to plan is an understatement for how poorly things went for Ortiz when he toed the rubber in the 2002 Fall Classic as a member of the Giants.

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“It was brutal,” said Ortiz, recalling his Game 2 start in which he lasted just 1.2 innings.

Failing on baseball’s biggest stage in front of a national television audience might’ve shook beyond repair a player who hadn’t before had things not go exactly as they’d hoped. Ortiz had plenty of experience to fall back on when it came time to regroup after that disastrous start.

As a high schooler in the San Fernando Valley, Ortiz began planning for his big right arm to bring him to a top-tier college baseball program. Being a California kid, he naturally eyed legacy programs from his home state—Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, and his dream school, Pepperdine.

Pepperdine came calling, but when the amount of scholarship the program offered would’ve still left Ortiz and his family with a heavy financial burden, plans changed. His older brother sent game film to programs nationwide, which led Ortiz to shift his sights from the beaches of Malibu to the decidedly lack of beaches in Norman, OK at the University of Oklahoma.

Upon arrival on campus, Ortiz planned to assert himself in the Sooners’ rotation over the course of three seasons, win a College World Series, and get drafted.

One out of three worked out fairly seamlessly. Ortiz and the Sooners took down a Nomar Garciaparra-led Georgia Tech squad to win the 1994 CWS. Following the national title and a standout summer in the Cape Cod League, Ortiz was primed to slide into the rotation, lead a repeat bid for Omaha, and boost his draft stock. Not so fast. Early in his junior season, Ortiz found himself on the outside looking in when it came to suiting up for the Sooners.

“I don’t remember doing that bad, but I didn’t suit up for games,” Ortiz said. “I didn’t travel with the team for about a month—I just threw bullpens…I was disappointed, I was sad, I was angry.”

Ortiz persevered, and finally found his way back onto the Sooners’ active roster—not as a starter, but as a member of the bullpen. He made up for lost time, showing enough in the team’s return to Omaha to be selected by the Giants in the 4th round of the 1995 draft. Just like at Oklahoma, the Giants sent him out as a reliever, and Ortiz planned to move quickly.

“I went in knowing that I could mow down all these guys,” Ortiz said.

After reaching Double-A Shreveport during his first full year in the Giants’ organization, Ortiz had his sights set on quickly becoming a member of the big league bullpen. The Giants, however, saw a pitcher with a durable body and three pitches—which gave them the idea to develop Ortiz as a starter.

“My first thought was, I don’t want to do that, because that’s going to hamper me getting to the big leagues in the time frame that it was looking like I had the opportunity to get there” said Ortiz.

Ortiz got over his initial discomfort to the idea of starting, and by the time he made his MLB debut on April 2nd, 1998, he had already gained a career’s worth of experience in going with the flow and adjusting to adversity.

Years of things not quite going to plan paid off in spades when Ortiz needed to bounce back from a tough 2000 season, battle through injuries to get back to the big leagues late in his career, and especially when the Giants needed him to respond in the ’02 World Series from a Game Two shellacking to put them in a position to win Game Six.

Although the Giants ultimately fell in that World Series, Ortiz responded with a steady quality start in Game Six, just like he planned.

On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm’, longtime big league righthander Russ Ortiz joins to discuss the mental approach to working on throwing strikes, battling through injuries, and what it’s like to share a clubhouse with Barry Bonds.

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